Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Conservative Majority Government Election Scenario Worth Pondering

So, Stephen Harper keeps telling Canadians that they have two choices: it’s either give him a Conservative Majority government, or instead they’ll end up with a Coalition of Losers, which include socialists and separatists. In the past, Harper has avoided talking about majority government for his party, for fear that average Canadians might still harbour concerns about his hidden agenda. This election, he’s turned the tables on the Opposition Parties, so now “average Canadians” are in fear that Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton might become Deputy Prime Ministers in a second-rate Ignatieff-led parliament. Which would be bad for the economy, by the way.

But, what if Canadians don’t give Harper his (false) majority? What if, instead, we end up with a parliament very much like the one we have now? Harper says that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc would defeat a minority Conservative government at the first opportunity, and attempt to seize power by forming a coalition government. While acknowledging that the “rules” would allow the Opposition parties to do so, Harper labels such a government as being “illegitimate”. Others in his party have used the word “coup” to describe a process which is completely within keeping of our Westminister style of parliament.

Back in December of 2008, during the so-called Constitutional Crisis (which wasn’t a constitutional crisis at all), you may remember that Harper and other prominent Conservative MP’s, and conservative media pundits, were talking about the legalities and morality of a Liberal / NDP coalition government, supported by the Bloc Quebecois. To stave off a confidence vote, Harper decided to approach the Governor-General with a request to prorogue parliament. At that time, some of the discussion about the legitimacy of a coalition government of defeated parties began to turn into a discussion about whether the Governor-General had the authority to say No to the Prime Minister’s request to prorogue.

I recall hearing from a number of conservative thinkers that they believed the GG’s powers to say no to a Prime Ministerial request had been restricted over the years since King-Byng. Some believed that the GG must follow the advice of a Prime Minister, and essentially do as the PM pleased. Now, many other prominent thinkers held alternative views: that the GG’s decision was hers to make, and although it was incumbent upon the GG to listen to the PM’s advice, she did not have to follow it.

Yet, follow it she did, by agreeing to prorogue a parliament which was only days old, and in order to stave off of vote of non-confidence. Many at the time thought that the GG’s decision was pretty bizarre, given that there was a formal agreement in place between the Opposition parties which would have led to a more stable government than the current minority situation.

Of course, a question was put to John Baird, regarding what might happen if the GG refused to prorogue parliament. The answer given was that the Conservatives would go over her head. To the Queen? No, to the Canadian people.

Given that the Conservative Party was on record with their opinion that the Governor-General has to follow the advice offered by the Prime Minister when making a decision, and given that there remains hanging over all PM / GG dealings this threat about going over the head of the GG to the “Canadian people” (despite there not being any formal mechanism to do so), and given the 2008 prorogation precedent to avoid a confidence vote, and given that a new Governor-General appointed by Stephen Harper will now have to make decisions, could events in the near future play out like this?

And yes, this is only speculation on my part. But, I think it’s worth considering. What might happen if the Conservatives are returned with a minority government? Michael Ignatieff has gone on record saying that he won’t form a coalition, but is it maybe realistic to think that, with the support of the NDP and the Bloc, as articulated in some form of agreement or accord (in line with the one which NDP Leader Bob Rae entered into with Liberal Premier David Peterson in 1985 to oust the PC’s under Frank Miller), Ignatieff might try to govern? Or perhaps Ignatieff might simply say that a Harper government is still a government with contempt for parliament, and as a result, a vote of non-confidence in the thrown speech is warranted. And given the change in circumstance, Ignatieff might very well say that he will form a coalition government with the NDP, supported by the Bloc.

With an Accord, or an informal agreement, or even if a coalition is back on the table, I believe that there is a very good possibility that the Opposition parties will get together in a bid to oust a Conservative minority government after this election, if one is returned. The fact of the matter would be that a minority government would still be composed of largely the same individuals who showed such contempt for parliament in the past that an argument could be made that Canadians deserve better. And of course, the results of the election will show that more Canadians didn’t vote for Conservatives than those that did. The Opposition would be in a position to indicate clearly to Canadians that they should be allowed to form government, given this result.

But to do so, they first must defeat the Conservatives on a matter of confidence, such as the throne speech. And to be a legitimate bid for power, it really must be the throne speech on which the defeat occurs, as it will be the very first matter of confidence before the House. Back in 2008, the Opposition parties did not try to defeat the new government on the throne speech, and as such, many Canadians were left wondering how it could be that the Opposition had confidence in the government one day, and a few days later, they lost confidence. Maybe it was the move to take away the per-vote subsidy in the budget after all.

This time, the Opposition can’t afford to make that mistake. If they’re in agreement that they will try to form government, they must defeat the Conservatives on the throne speech. And doing so will mean that the Conservatives will have little opportunity to prorogue.

So, the Opposition parties vote against the throne speech, and the Conservatives lose the confidence of the House. Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes a walk to his friend, the new Governor-General, whom Harper and the rest of the Conservative Party believe must follow the advice of the PM. Harper says that he’s lost the confidence of the House, and…

That he would like to go to the Canadian people for a new mandate to govern. That the Governor-General should immediately dissolve parliament and call the 42nd General Election.

Wait a moment, I can hear you say. Wouldn’t the GG turn to the Leader of the Opposition first, to find out whether he believed that a stable government could be formed? Well…I would agree that the GG has the ability to do so, and right now, media pundits who are debating coalitions and how Ignatieff might become PM even without winning the most seats in the house – they’re all saying that the GG could do this. In fact, it’s almost as if the media is assuming that the Governor-General would turn to the Leader of the Opposition to form government if the Conservatives lose a confidence motion. This would provide for a stable government, at least for a while, and avoid another costly election.

But why wouldn’t Stephen Harper and the Conservatives rather fight another election, immediately, after the “illegitimate” coalition once again tried to “seize power” from the victors of the election? With enough money in the bank to go all-out in a second election in three months, and with what is likely to be the weight of public opinion on their side, surely Harper isn’t going to go to the GG and request that the reigns of power be handed over to the Leader of the Coup, Ignatieff, and his deputies, Layton and Duceppe.

The only question I have is whether the GG will play ball with Harper. And I think that he just might, claiming that the will of Canadians needs to be respected, because the victors in the election aren’t being allowed to govern. Remember, the new GG has conservative baggage at the back of his closet. And recall that Conservatives have already advanced the argument that the GG is there to follow the advice of the PM, period, and not to think for himself. And, whether or not the GG believes that he has to follow the advice of the PM, certainly he might choose to do so himself anyway; there’s nothing which would require the GG to turn to the Leader of the Opposition.

This would all mean another election, starting likely in late May or early June. And it would almost certainly lead to the Conservative Majority government that Harper craves. Ignatieff’s credibility about a coalition would be shot, and the Opposition Parties would be vilified by the mainstream media and the electorate for trying to seize power from the winning party (despite having the constitutional ability to do so). Can you just imagine the level of rhetoric in such an election? Harper would tell Canadians that the coalition has needlessly plunged Canada into yet another economy-damaging election. Nevermind reality here folks; it’s the spin that will matter most.

Yes, this could very well be the route that Harper and the Conservatives get their Majority government. With the advantage of destroying the Liberal Party in the process.

You heard it here first.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)


ck said...

Actually, I don't think Jean had a choice but to grant Harper that prorogation in 2008.

Read Lawrence Martin's Harperland, specifically, Chapter 14-"Surviving the coalition" Pages 187-188. John Baird and others had said that there was a plan B in the works if Jean refused the prorogation. Apparently, they were going to take the polls showing how vehemently Canadians were opposed to this coalition and go over Jean's head and make a case to the Queen that Jean would've needed to be replaced by someone more 'compliant'.

Now, honestly, I'm not sure how the Queen would've ruled or how she would've advised the Harpercons, but the very idea that they were willing to go to such lengths if Jean didn't give them what they wanted speaks volumes.

That meeting between Harper and Jean took 2 hours. Two hours to request prorogation? Me thinks there was some resistance in the beginning.

The next prorogation in January of 2010 was granted easily over the telephone. That pretty much confirms Martin's account in Harperland to me.

The other thing that should stand out in one's mind--the PM appoints someone to 'be his boss'?? Something weird about that in the first place. GG these days, particularly under Harper is nothing more than a figurehead; a tax-payer paid figurehead.

Chris KN said...

If the Liberals don't make ground in this election, it's likely that both they and the NDP will be heading into leadership races after this election. So, even if there is a Conservative minority government, it's likely that the opposition will let it survive for the immediate future while they sort out their own matters.

If both Jack and Iggy plan to step down, it's also possible that those rumblings of combining the two parties might start to get louder and that might play out in respective leadership races.

It's also possible that Harper himself might be pressured to step down if he's unable to get a majority again. That's less likely, though, since most in the Conservative Party seem to be afraid of him. But there are guys like Jim Prentice waiting in the wings, who would seem more likely to get a majority if Harper can't on May 2nd.

Basically what I'm saying is that the post-election politics have a much greater possibility of being more interesting than this election, which is fairly banal, to say the least.

Good post, Steve.

Sudbury Steve said...

@ck...I know that Brian Topp (NDP pundit)has written about the Cons wanting to involve the Queen if the GG wasn't going to prorogue, but I also recall that Baird quite explicitly said that they would go "over the head" of the GG and to the Canadian people, presumably in some sort of populist ploy. I've always wondered what might have happened had the GG said No, and I have this image in my head of Bob Rae showing up to work at the Parliament Buildings on Monday, only to find them padlocked, and Jim Flaherty addressing the media, saying "Well, if they can't get in, they can't get quorum".

@Chris - I definetly think that the post-election shake-up is going to be much more interesting than the election itself. No party leader is safe from having to step down or being forced out. But I'm not so sure that the Opposition would let a Conservative minority survive, given that it would largely be the same lot for whom so much contempt was recently expressed. Yes, it's a possibility, but I just don't see it happening, unless Ignatieff keeps the Lib seat count in Stephane Dion territory.

NDP and Liberals together? Really? I...just don't see it.

Daryl Vernon said...

Hello, Steve, you're still loyally at it with GPC, I notice. I also noticed the party's general slide, first internally then consequentially externally, from just after my departure late '09. Just thought I'd throw that in...After this election it could be time to re-form the GPC, I could get involved, and it would be good to see you there.

"the results of the election will show that more Canadians didn’t vote for Conservatives than those that did"

That I think will matter less than that Cons. might increase seat count this time, if still minority. In that case, it could be even more than the past few years as if they had a majority.

So I agree that it is a distinct possibility where, if Harper delayed enough in Parl. business after re-election, then faced his govt. being toppled, GG would acquiesce in a new election, likelier to return a majority, or steadier-still minority.

I blogged quite a bit at the GPC site about the prorogation (qv), I disagree with the commenter who thought Jean had no option really. I gave reasons, personally affecting her and her place in that office (& of course implying the office itself with her stamp on it), as to why she decided as she did.

Likewise the current GG would understand his person & the office favourably to Harper, for diff. reasons, of course.

But -- another scenario, see it here first -- is Ign. stepping down (not as MP) or aside if the results are not a significant seat/vote-count gain, with another provisional leader stepping in -- Rae? -- to do what Ign. formally says he would not, ie "coalesce" with the NDP to govern (remember Rae at Queen's Park?). That would look not the same as Ign. going back on his word, but Cons. cannot have done too much better than now for that to come about, I feel, for there not to be an outcry or mischief getting in the way.

The main thing all along has been (in)sufficiency of $ for Libs. to set to an election. But also pushing from behind are the types who installed Obama, impatient that their man, Ign., has not gotten in already. When NYT times run pieces on the leader of the 2nd party up here (as they did just prior to this campaign, and when he was starting up here), you know who is backing whom.

(In Israel, another of the closest countries to US, & thus to its prior admin., there is a political lag in satisfying the Obama backers, and just as here, for diff. domestic reasons for sure!, the old regime should continue its plurality/leadership.)

So, just thought I'd stop by to say 'hi', you I recall as a more thoughtful one among GPC-ers, I still look back now & then to check up on goings on, and there you were. Maybe we'll have dealings again.

One more thought about this election's timing, it is possible that Libs. have a Zaccardelli-style interventionist bombshell or two to drop in the coming weeks anti-Cons. But this being Canada, it might not take...